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Twins, a Tumor, and Time: How I Coped with Cancer When I Was the Caretaker

October 14, 2014
Authored by Christine Kalafus

Right now, somewhere nearby, there is a woman sitting at her kitchen table, wondering how she can possibly deal with her diagnosis of cancer. Perhaps she is a mother, a sister, wife or daughter, responsible for so many others and often lastly, for herself. With so many people counting on her for physical and moral support, she wonders where the time will come from to go to the doctor, schedule surgery and the protocol of treatment.

What will she cut from the long list?

I know intimately how she feels. In 2001 I was towards the end of a pregnancy when I discovered a lump in my right breast. As my belly grew, so did the lump and my fear. I had to advocate strongly to my doctor that there was something wrong, that the lump needed to be diagnosed. Reluctantly, he sent me across the street to a surgeon who removed the fluid that would lead to a world wind of positive diagnosis, same-day immediate C-section birth and a lumpectomy. 

I gave birth to four things that day: two perfect identical twin boys, a cancerous lump the size of a golf ball and my quest for patient advocacy.

Christine during her second pregnancy in 2001. As she neared the birth of her twins, she found out she had a malignant tumor in her breast.

 Christine's boys.
Christine and her family in June, 2014, at her oldest son's high school graduation. Christine has been cancer-free for 14 years.

The treatment of cancer in women, breast or otherwise, is enmeshed with our society and therefore, our understanding of our singular place in the world. As a mother of three, I struggled with “doing it all” and at the same time, being on time for appointments and doing what was expected by my doctors.

I recall one day, sitting across from my oncologist, in the beginning of both winter and chemotherapy, tired from my responsibilities at home, refusing to have a flu shot like a two year old. It was a ridiculous rebellion. I was a grown woman sitting on the paper covered examination table staring down my doctor. He probably thought I was nuts, what was wrong with one more injection? After a defense of my argument, I won. He agreed it wasn’t absolutely necessary and I left the hospital that day feeling as though I had a voice in my care.

Being my own advocate throughout treatment started with me speaking up in the first place and receiving the short-term devastating diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer, but a positive long-term prognosis.

Nearly fourteen years later, I am cancer-free and healthy. While, for the most part I did as my doctors advised, a large part of my self-care has been through writing. I wrote about everything from the chronology of treatments, my feelings, and funny things that happened along the way: like the day my wig slid off my head at a crowded state park. Writing about these things improved my outlook and I believe encouraged the success of my treatment. I am still writing.

It’s through stories and our relationships to others in similar situations that we can reach out and tell that woman at her kitchen table that she isn’t alone. That she has a voice and it needs to be heard. One way to express our voices is through creative writing.

I run the creative writing program: Writing With Support, a women-only support group, made up of current cancer patients and cancer survivors currently at the Putnam Library. We meet Monday evenings 6-7:20 or Tuesday mornings 10:30-Noon. We write about life.

Writing With Support is for women of all ages. I like to think of us as ageless. It’s my hope that no woman ever feels she has to experience cancer and treatment without being heard.

We are listening.

For information on Writing With Support, contact Christine at 860-630-0090 or visit her at:

Do you have a story you'd like to share? E-mail or contact the DKH Communications Department at (860) 963-6598.

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Alejandro Carvajal, MD

Alejandro Carvajal, MD


My goal as your oncologist is to make you feel as comfortable and at home as one could possibly feel while having cancer. I make sure to explain everything in easy to understand wording, so that you...more »
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